Bird of the Month - September 2020

Each month, Birds Queensland highlights a Bird of the Month. To learn more about our Queensland birds, make sure you return to this page each month to read about the featured species.

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Kermadec Petrel Pterodroma neglecta

Article: Nikolas K. Haass

The Kermadec Petrel was described by Schlegel in 1863 as Pterodroma neglecta. The genus name is Ancient Greek and means 'wing-runner' (composed of pteron and dromoz). The species name is Latin and means 'neglected' or 'ignored' because the three original skins collected by Verreaux in 1854 were mislabelled as another species, and were only recognised as a new species by Schlegel nine years later and officially described.

Kermadec Petrel Kermadec Petrel
Dark and café-au-lait-coloured Kermadec Petrels off Southport, QLD. Note the diagnostic white primary shafts on the upperwing and the white flash on the underwing.
©Raja W. Stephenson

Kermadec Petrel nests on islands across the subtropical south Pacific from Lord Howe Island (Balls Pyramid) and Norfolk Island (Phillip Island) to Juan Fernandez Island, but also on Round Island near Mauritius in the southwest Indian Ocean. The Australian breeding population is tiny and therefore listed as vulnerable, even though the global IUCN Red List status is 'Least Concern'. On Round Island, hybridisation occurs with Trindade and Herald Petrels (Brown et al. 2011, PLoS ONE 6(5): e20350). In addition, there is potential hybridisation with Herald, Henderson and Murphy's Petrels in the Pacific (Howell & Zufelt 2019, Oceanic Birds of the World. Princeton University Press). So, what is the link to Queensland? One-day pelagic trips off SEQLD are the easiest place in the world to see this species. Kermadec Petrels are seen on these trips throughout the year with lower numbers in winter.

Kermadec Petrel Kermadec Petrel
White-headed and dark-headed Kermadec Petrels off Southport, QLD. Note the superficial similarity to other species, White-headed Petrel and Phoenix or Magenta Petrels, respectively.
©Raja W. Stephenson

Kermadec Petrel belongs to a subset of gadfly petrels that are fairly large and thickset. Its plumage is highly variable: its head and body can range from white to café-au-lait-coloured to wholly dark. All morphs show a conspicuous white flash on the base of the underside of the primaries, as do a few other gadfly petrel species, but the white feather shafts to the upper side of the primaries are diagnostic. While these white primary shafts are unique amongst petrels, it resembles the upperwing pattern of jaegers and skuas. Indeed, Kermadec Petrels often chase and pirate other seabirds for food, similar to jaegers and skuas.

Kermadec Petrel Kermadec Petrel
White and café-au-lait-coloured Kermadec Petrels off Southport, QLD. Note the extreme amount of white on the underwing of the white bird and the 'classic' Neophema-like facial pattern of the other bird. Both show the diagnostic white primary shafts on the upperwing.
©Raja W. Stephenson

Except for the extremely white- or dark-headed morphs, Kermadec Petrels usually show a dark loral stripe contrasting to a paler crown and subloral area. This is, with some imagination, reminiscent of the facial pattern of Neophema parrots. Due to the extreme variation in plumage colour, a number of identification contenders need to be considered. These include, amongst species recorded in Queensland waters, Herald, Phoenix, Magenta, White-headed and Providence Petrel. With experience, they can be told apart by overall shape and structure, tail length and plumage details, but most importantly they all lack the white shafts on the upper side of the primaries.

Kermadec Petrel
Kermadec Petrel pirating a juvenile White-tailed Tropicbird in a skua/jaeger-like fashion off Raine Island, QLD
©Raja W. Stephenson

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